Hon­our­ing our mil­i­tary his­tory

Malaysia has sev­eral im­por­tant war his­tor­i­cal sites that should be pre­served and pro­moted, ex­perts say. and there is a mar­ket for mil­i­tary his­tory tourism.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By TER­ENCE TOH [email protected]­tar.com.my

“DEC 7, 1941. A date that will live on in in­famy.” Most peo­ple are probably fa­mil­iar with this fa­mous line, de­liv­ered by United States pres­i­dent Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt after the Em­pire of Ja­pan’s attack on Pearl Har­bor in 1941.

While that date does in­deed de­serve it’s rep­u­ta­tion, a lot less peo­ple are aware of a sim­i­lar event that hap­pened around the same time. Dec 8, 1941, was the be­gin­ning of the Ja­panese in­va­sion of Malaya, with a Ja­panese in­va­sion fleet land­ing at Kota Baru, Ke­lan­tan.

Those land­ings marked the first ma­jor bat­tle of the Pa­cific War. It was the first time this con­flict could truly be called a World War: pre­vi­ously, most bat­tles had only taken place on Eu­ro­pean soil. Yet this im­por­tant mile­stone was mostly only known to his­to­ri­ans. Men­tion the Kota Baru land­ings, and you’d probably get blank stares from most peo­ple.

But why is this so, con­sid­er­ing this event had just as much his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance as Pearl Har­bor?

This was among the top­ics brought up at “Pre­serv­ing War His­tor­i­cal Sites and Pro­mot­ing Mil­i­tary His­tory Tourism in Malaysia”, a panel dis­cus­sion that took place dur­ing “Malaya At War”, a con­fer­ence held to com­mem­o­rate Malaysian mil­i­tary his­tory, par­tic­u­larly the Malayan cam­paign and the Malayan Emer­gency. It was held on Aug 10 and 11 at the Royal Chu­lan Ho­tel in Kuala Lumpur.

(The Malayan Cam­paign was a se­ries of bat­tles fought be­tween Al­lies (mostly Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth) and Axis (pri­mar­ily Ja­panese) forces in Malaya from Dec 8, 1941, to Jan 31, 1942. It ended with the fall of Sin­ga­pore and the oc­cu­pa­tion of the Malay penin­sula. The Malayan Emer­gency was a guerilla war fought in Malaya from 1948-1960, be­tween the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth and com­mu­nist armed forces.)

The panel con­sisted of Malaysian bat­tle­field guides Ge­orge Yong and Zafrani Ar­ifin, Hol­i­day Tours and Travel Sdn Bhd Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Head Henry Ong, and ac­cred­ited bat­tle­field guide and Aus­tralian mil­i­tary his­to­rian Den­nis Weather­all. It was mod­er­ated by War His­tory In­sti­tute re­search direc­tor Seu­mas Tan.

Ac­cord­ing to the panel, Malaysia had many in­ter­est­ing World War II mil­i­tary his­tor­i­cal sites. These in­cluded the Green Ridge in Perak (where the his­toric 1941 Bat­tle of Kam­par took place, the old Ge­mas rail­way sta­tion), the Bu­loh Kasap bro­ken bridge, and the Parit Su­long Me­mo­rial. A lot of them, how­ever, were in a state of ne­glect, or were not well-known – which is a pity, as Malaysia has a rich mil­i­tary his­tory that is beg­ging to be shared with a wider au­di­ence.

Pro­mot­ing our coun­try’s mil­i­tary his­tory, the panel said, has its chal­lenges. Ac­cord­ing to Zafrani, one of this is many ma­jor events took place over many places, in­clud­ing parts of Malaya, Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land. To get a com­pre­hen­sive look at the coun­try’s mil­i­tary his­tory there­fore might re­quire a trip to three dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Cer­tain sites are also in the mid­dle of the jun­gle, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to get to.

How­ever, it is im­por­tant to pre­serve and pro­mote them, as they would bring many ben­e­fits to the coun­try.

“There needs to be more pro­mo­tion of our lo­cal his­tor­i­cal sites. They can use the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate eco­nomic in­come from peo­ple who come and visit. I think it should be sup­ported by the govern­ment. In France, for ex­am­ple, ev­ery­one knows about Nor­mandy, and the D-Day land­ings. We have sites of just as much his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance!” Zafrani said. “We need to lever­age our lo­cal his­tory more. Tour guides, for ex­am­ple, should do more re­search to find more in­for­ma­tion on places, and we can cre­ate a strong in­dus­try.”

Yong added that, in his ex­pe­ri­ence, there is a mar­ket for mil­i­tary his­tory tourism. One rea­son, how­ever, why Malaysians do not of­ten visit fa­mous war sites, is be­cause these places are mostly as­so­ci­ated with death and vi­o­lence. The more su­per­sti­tious among them, there­fore, re­gard them as ta­boo.

Other chal­lenges are his­tor­i­cal events such as the Ja­panese “scorched earth” pol­icy, which was their mil­i­tary strat­egy to de­stroy ev­ery­thing to pre­vent an en­emy from gain­ing any sort of ben­e­fit.

“Be­cause of this ‘scorched earth’ pol­icy, at the end of the war, it makes his­tory a bit dif­fi­cult. A lot of source doc­u­ments are miss­ing. And when de­liv­er­ing in­for­ma­tion, we need to go to the source,” Yong said.

Weather­all said there are four rea­sons peo­ple visit bat­tle­fields. The first are tours for veter­ans ea­ger to re­visit their pre­vi­ous bat­tles, the second are staff rides (his­tor­i­cal stud­ies) to learn from the mis­takes or tac­tics of a pre­vi­ous en­gage­ment, the third are remembranc­e tours, and fi­nally, ed­u­ca­tional school tours.

Main­te­nance of his­tor­i­cal sites is very im­por­tant, as well as the abil­ity of tour guides to tell the his­tory of a place in a clear and con­cise man­ner.

“Look­ing at Malaysia, you have a rich, in-depth his­tory of war from World War II. I think the Fed­eral govern­ment and the state gov­ern­ments have to get to­gether and be ‘fair dinkum’ of whether they re­ally want to have mil­i­tary tourism, ir­re­gard­less of dif­fer­ences,” Weather­all said.

“They can bring to the youth and to­day’s mil­i­tary the vast his­tory that this coun­try has. But it’s up to the re­spec­tive de­part­ments to clean up their act. Cer­tain ar­eas need to re­fur­bished and re­struc­tured. And put up signs, so peo­ple can go to a place and be im­pressed.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ong, the most im­por­tant thing needed is ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness, to make lo­cals re­alise the im­por­tance of these sites and why they should be pre­served. This, he said, re­quires com­bined ef­forts by var­i­ous par­ties, in­clud­ing schools, lo­cal tour guides, his­tor­i­cal groups and Tourism Malaysia.

“We should work with the Malaya His­tor­i­cal Group (MHG) to per­haps cre­ate itin­er­ar­ies to some of the relic ar­eas we have al­ready dis­cov­ered. We met with Tourism Malaysia, and told them we had the idea to in­clude mil­i­tary tourism in the Malaysian tour guide’s syl­labus,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Tan, pre­serv­ing his­tor­i­cal sites is cru­cial, as each of them tells an im­por­tant story of our na­tion. Last year, he vis­ited a num­ber of them with Zafrani and Ong, and was shocked at the poor state they were in. It was for this rea­son that his team or­gan­ised the Malaya At War con­fer­ence, as well as a fol­low-up week-long war his­tory tour go­ing through Me­laka, Ipoh, Taip­ing, Pe­nang and more.

Tan added that he has plans to con­tinue this “Malaya at War”

se­ries, with another con­fer­ence next year themed “The Fi­nal Re­treat”. It will trace the fi­nal stage of the Al­lied Forces re­treat­ing to Sin­ga­pore in the Malayan cam­paign. Hol­i­day Tours and Travel would also be hold­ing short tours and events cater­ing to mil­i­tary his­tory.

“To ap­pre­ci­ate a site, one needs to un­der­stand the story or his­tory be­hind it – to ap­pre­ci­ate the hero­ism and sac­ri­fices of those who were in­volved, and also those who suf­fered dur­ing those events,” Tan said.

“When you walk on the bat­tle­field or the war his­tor­i­cal site, you not only get a sense of what it was like dur­ing those years, but you also get a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for those who were in­volved. And this, in a way, will bring out the na­tion­al­ism and pa­tri­o­tism in a per­son.”

— Pho­tos: seu­mas TaN

a com­par­i­son of the sega­mat bridge now to how it was in the days of World War II. It was in­ten­tion­ally de­stroyed by aus­tralian forces dur­ing the malayan cam­paign to sab­o­tage in­com­ing Ja­panese forces. It was sub­se­quently re­paired. This is one of the sites sug­gested by Tan to be pro­moted through mil­i­tary tourism.

— JasToN NG

mem­bers of the ‘malaya at War’ con­fer­ence tour at the Parit su­long me­mo­rial in Jo­hor. mem­bers of the ‘Pre­serv­ing War his­tor­i­cal sites and Pro­mot­ing mil­i­tary his­tory Tourism in malaysia’ panel: (from left) mod­er­a­tor seu­mas Tan, ong, yong, Zafrani ar­ifin and Weather­all.

a com­par­i­son of the Ge­mas rail­way sta­tion now to how it was in the days of World War II. The his­tor­i­cal bu­loh Kasap bridge in muar, which Tan gave as an ex­am­ple of a his­tor­i­cal site which should be pre­served and pro­moted.

‘malaya at War’ con­fer­ence tour mem­bers vis­it­ing the Green ridge, the his­tor­i­cal site of the bat­tle of Kam­par.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.